After the New England Patriots picked Colorado offensive lineman William Sherman in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, head coach Bill Belichick referred to him as “the tackle.”
Usually, referring to a player by their college position would not be in any way notable, but it’s significant enough to mention in this instance because of Sherman’s size. At 6-foot-3, 304 pounds with 33.5-inch arms, Sherman would be too small to play offensive tackle on most NFL teams. That’s not necessarily the case in New England.
“Sherman, the tackle, has played both left and right tackle, also has some experience at guard,” Belichick said last month. “So also see how all that plays out. But in ’18, he played left tackle, then moved to right tackle and they had a grad transfer come in and play left tackle. Then he moved back to left tackle this year in ’20. So left, right, left. Army football. Again, we’ll see how that goes. Certainly has some versatility. Again, maybe also able or suited to play guard. We’ll see how that goes.”
Sherman also snapped during the predraft process in case a team wanted him to play center. But it wouldn’t be shocking to see Sherman tried out first as a rookie at offensive tackle. He’s listed as a tackle on the Patriots’ roster, and New England’s transactions Monday might have provided some intel on where Belichick envisions Sherman. The Patriots signed guard Alex Redmond and center James Ferentz. That leaves New England relatively barren at tackle with Sherman presumably joining starters Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown plus reserves Justin Herron, Korey Cunningham and Yodny Cajsute on the depth chart. Starting guard Michael Onwenu also played tackle last season.
The fact that New England was willing to put Onwenu, a college guard, at tackle is noteworthy and shows it doesn’t value length the way most teams do at the position. Onwenu is 6-foot-3 with 34 3/8-inch arms. Wynn is only 6-foot-3 with 33 3/8-inch arms. Jermaine Eluemunor, who started for the Patriots at right tackle in 2020, is 6-foot-4 with 33 1/4-inch arms. Brown is 6-foot-9 with 36-inch arms but he’s almost from a bygone era of Patriots tackles of the early 2010s when Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, both 6-foot-8, would tower over the rest of their teammates and opponents on the game field.
But New England’s lack of attention to length at tackle goes back a long ways.
“I mean, a lot of people thought (Matt) Light wasn?t long enough to play there, and he had a pretty good career at left tackle,” Belichick said in November. “To me, it?s more about — the same thing about Wynn. A lot of you guys talked about him not being long enough to play left tackle. I mean, I look at good players and what?s important to me is how good the player is. I mean, obviously, there?s prototypes and so forth, but there?s guys that can play a position and there?s guys that can?t. We?ve had some great players, like Kevin Faulk and Troy Brown and Matt Light, who may be undersized for their position or whatever, but if they?re good football players, they?re good football players.”
Time will tell if Sherman winds up being a good football player, but he was certainly successful at both tackle spots in college. He let up just six sacks in three college seasons before declaring for the NFL early as a junior after the 2020 season. Last season, he let up just two sacks — including one that came on a very difficult block — and two QB hits in six games, per PFF. He allowed two sacks, one QB hit and 11 hurries in 2019 and two sacks and 19 hurries in 2018, per PFF.
Sherman’s biggest strengths are his athleticism and power. He looks good on the move and has the ability to deliver key blocks on pulls and when he gets to the second level of the defense.
Sherman also shows good situational awareness and plays smart at the line of scrimmage when he has to move on and block another defender against stunts and games.
He can get a little out of control, however, both in his pass-blocking sets and when he’s out in space. He did show improvement by Colorado’s final game of the season against Texas.
Some of Sherman’s issues when he’s out on an island could be fixed by moving inside to guard. He would need to play under better control when he extends past the line of scrimmage, however.
He’s an interesting prospect and a potential value pick. If Sherman can actually play offensive tackle in the NFL, then he was a steal in the sixth round. But he’s undersized, didn’t test particularly well and doesn’t have any college game experience at guard or center. So, it’s understandable why some teams would have been hesitant to take him before the final round of the 2021 NFL Draft if he was simply going to be viewed as a project.
In New England, the possibility at least exists that Sherman can stick at offensive tackle. He’ll have a chance to prove it during organized team activities, minicamp, training camp and the preseason.